Single blog

The Library Project – Gili Air

Reading is for everyone. Even in the digital age where physical books are quickly becoming antiquated, the ability to read is critical to success in life. Developing literacy doesn’t happen overnight. It requires explicit instruction, practice, and patience. But, the very first step is cultivating a child’s interest in reading and ensuring access to high-quality, engaging text.

I had heard many people mention that there is a literacy gap on Gili Air. Students just aren’t into reading, especially when presented with a choice between a book and a hand phone – social media always prevails. It wasn’t until I first visited the existing library at SDN 1 in January that I recognized the seriousness of the problem.

Walking through the threshold under the sign, Perpustakaan, we found a room full of dusty shelves with hundreds of books shoved in every which way and overflowing into piles on the floor. The assorted furniture was haphazardly arranged and after winding through the bookcases like a maze, there was only more rubbish and debris to be found. This wasn’t a library, it was more of an overlooked storage room. When educated adults allowed the library to become and stay such a disorganized place, how could the children possibly be expected to cultivate a desire to read? Books need to be revered, modeled as a source of knowledge, and treated as something to be cared for and shared for children to understand their value.

Despite the chaos of the current state of the library, there was potential! There were books and there were shelves.  And that day, there were a few students in the library picking up books and flipping through whatever they found. There was interest!

So, after some discussion and planning, we got the green light from the headmaster and the head of the Island to attempt to transform the library into a welcoming place where children would choose books over screens and learn to love reading. We quickly launched a fundraising campaign with the hopes of raising $1000 to finance the flip and posted a plea for volunteers.

On February 6, we began the process with a full weekend of work, which was just the beginning. In the months that followed, over 30 volunteers and a consistent bunch of about 15 children from the neighborhood donated countless hours cleaning, painting, sorting, organizing, sheliving, cataloging, stamping, and numbering all the books.

As the weeks went on, the library was becoming a place of curiosity for the students as they peered in each day to see what we were up to – often offering to help. They especially loved helping to paint (the messy work) and helping to sort books with their matches (the fun work). And when the adults were busy cataloging the books into a spreadsheet, some students even pretended to have laptops of their own, working right alongside us. The students who didn’t feel like helping simply came in to read as books were being shelved by category and becoming easier to find.

Once we had a clear idea of the quantity and contents of the existing books, it was time to order new books as requested by the teachers and students. Books in English, books about animals, and comics were at the top of the list. Anytime a new order arrived and I rode my bicycle through the yard calling, “Buku-buku baru!” the children came running. Their ear-to-ear smiles upon opening the packages said it all – their interest in reading was growing.

Throughout the project, the doors of the library remained open so our process was very transparent. By way of observation, students started to understand how to carefully take a book off the shelf and return it to its proper place. When it was finally time to number the books with the shelves they belong to, students had Sharpies in hand, carefully checking that the number they wrote in the book matched the one on the shelf. We were transforming this library together.

On April 10, 2021, the library opened with a final reveal of the space complete with a mural of ocean animals reading books, 32 colorful carpets, two custom-made display bookshelves, and over 750 new books which were stamped with the words “Perpustakaan SDN 1 Gili Indah” and tucked in carefully amongst the rest, just waiting to be opened and enjoyed.

Our vision was realized. The SDN 1 library is now a place where literacy is celebrated and books are shared and treated with respect. It quickly becomes clear when entering the library full of students engaged in reading that the statement painted on the back wall is true: “Semua orang boleh membaca” – Reading is for everyone.

By opening day, we had raised over $2500 and received thousands more as in-kind donations from local businesses and individuals as prizes for the Raffle for Reading. Since then, the overwhelming success of the library project has inspired a school-wide educational and environmental improvement plan in which all six classrooms will receive a much needed renovation and the campus will see new class gardens, a recycling center, bicycle parking, a resurfaced play area, and more.

With the continued support of generous donors, the students of SDN 1 will be welcomed back to campus in July to start a new school year in a place where the importance of education is reflected in the quality of the learning environment – a place where we hope they feel inspired to learn and dream beyond the boundaries of what they think is possible. The students of Gili Air deserve this. They are the future. 

By Lucy Katherine Clark

I am a California-native and former kindergarten teacher who fell in love with Gili Air the moment I first arrived in September 2020. When I decided to move to Gili Air later that year, I knew I wanted to get involved with an educational project on the island. After meeting Julie and discussing the idea of creating a library for the children of Gili Air, my motivation to make the project a success soared. With the goal of buying as many books as possible, I decided to run my first marathon around the island as a fundraiser. On April 1, 2021, with the support of my island community, I did it – 42k, 8 ½ laps! This effort raised enough money to not just support the library transformation but also to finance half of a classroom renovation as well. It’s amazing what’s possible when you set your goals high and don’t stop until they are achieved!